August 14, 2013
Chicago’s bustling O’Hare airport has hired a new crew to keep the grass cut: a herd of goats, sheep, donkeys and llamas. Yes, llamas.
The llamas help protect the sheep and miniature goats from coyotes that roam the wooded areas near one of the world’s busiest airports. The donkeys are also big and aggressive enough to keep predators away.
And the entire chew crew works to keep the grounds clear of critters that can interfere — or even endanger — airport operations.
Long grass isn’t just messy, airport officials explained as they unveiled the new crew Tuesday. It’s also a breeding ground for the small rodents that attract hawks and other birds of prey.
“Birds and planes don’t mix,” said Rosemarie Andolino commissioner of Chicago’s airport authority.
Chicago used to rely on herbicides and motorized lawnmowers to maintain the nearly 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of land surrounding O’Hare.
But the rocky and hilly areas far from the tarmacs were tough to mow and could damage the city’s expensive equipment. And despite endless hours of hot sweaty landscaping work, the airport’s wildlife relocation team was constantly on the hunt for errant animals.
So the Windy City decided to follow the lead of airports in Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta and try an old-fashioned approach.
Aside from giving the landscaping crew a break, relying on ruminants also potentially reduces the airport’s carbon footprint by eliminating the use of gasoline-powered equipment.